Thursday, August 30, 2007

How cats fish

This is how Garfield does it:

Click to enlarge
When I saw this comic strip today, I remembered something similar that I witnessed last Sunday at the pond behind my Hooghly house. A fish had died in the pond and was floating near the bank, and two cats, one of them distinctly Garfield-ish, desperately tried to fish it out. They submerged up to their elbows in water and tried to get nearer to the fish, but in vain. I captured a video of their efforts from our first floor balcony overlooking the pond. Here you can see the Garfield-ish cat (he is called Meow) jump atop some dead branches and leaves floating in the water to get closer to the dead fish whose tail can just be seen briefly near the wall. At one point Meow seems to be contemplating catching other fish as well. That morning the pond was teeming with shoals of fish all floating near the surface.

I thought this behaviour was pretty unusual as I have always known that domestic cats hate getting wet and avoid water at all costs. Obviously, this is just another myth. Hunger can make anybody do anything.

And Garfield isn't the only cat who is perpetually hungry.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Reporting Terrorism

"Hyderabad Horror" screamed the headline on The Times of India yesterday. It was referring to the series of bomb blasts in Hyderabad on Saturday. Whenever we have any terrorist attacks or natural disasters, the newspapers vie with each other to grab the catchiest headline (to be honest they do it for good news stories too). This practice, though it seems a bit cheap to me, is acceptable. Journalism, after all, is as much about literary prowess as it is about news.

What is not acceptable to me is the presence of colour photos of the bodies blown to smithereens on the front page. The Times of India showed bodies strewn all over the “Laserium” in Lumbini Park. My sister informs me the other papers were even worse. She had to fold up her Telegraph in reverse to avoid looking at the photo on the front page (link deliberately not provided). What made it infinitely more sickening for both of us is the thought that we were sitting together on those seats, watching that 7:30 pm laser show on a Saturday evening almost a year ago. It could have been us in those photos. Do these journalists ever pause to think that the body in the photo was somebody’s son, daughter, sibling or spouse a few hours ago? Do they ever put themselves in the shoes of the relatives? Shouldn’t the dead be given a little more privacy?
Click to Enlarge
The “Laserium” in Lumbini Park is the largest laser show in the country and it attracts thousands of people everyday (This photo shows the laser show at Lumbini Park). The weekend shows are certainly packed to full capacity but luckily the place was relatively empty this Saturday due to rain. Moreover, a large part of this crowd is composed of tourists. When a terrorist organization explodes a bomb in a place like this, it is very obvious that they are aiming for maximum casualties, and they want to create panic, both among the local people and among the tourists visiting Hyderabad. When the newspapers present the news in such disgusting manner, they are actually helping the terrorists’ cause by propagating that same message of terror. If the reporters can’t put themselves in the shoes of the dead people, the readers can. I shudder to think what would have happened if all the other bombs hade gone off too, because I know just how crowded these places are. After these blasts and the previous ones a few months ago, anybody thinking of visiting Hyderabad will think twice.

I’m not saying that the news should be hushed up. On the contrary, the details are required so that we can be on our guard in future. The administration should be kept on its toes. But definitely, the line should be drawn while putting photos in the newspapers. In this case, photos of broken seats would have sufficed. The bodies weren’t needed.

The journalists' job is to present true news in a way fit for the readers. They should have remembered that those images of violence were not fit for everybody.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Packing and Unpacking

Wondering why I'm not writing anymore? I stopped writing because I had to pack and unpack many of the following items over the last couple of weeks.
  1. Some 20 or so cartons of books
  2. Half a dozen trunks full of clothes
  3. Two crates full of utensils, crockery and cutlery
  4. A couple of steel cupboards
  5. A pair of hold-alls
  6. Two beds, mattresses and all
  7. One divan
  8. A sofa set, with centre table and side tables
  9. A dressing table with a full length mirror
  10. A fridge
  11. One washing machine
  12. TV, DVD player, music system, record player etc.
  13. A few boxes of audio cassettes, CDs, DVDs and gramophone records
  14. A treadmill, a carom board, a cricket bat and two folding cots
  15. A locked bicycle (since the key had been packed away in some box earlier)
  16. A pair of carpets
  17. Several framed pictures, including a full size replica of the Mona Lisa
  18. A few potted plants
  19. A red coloured Tobu tricycle (don't ask me why we carried that)
  20. Many, many other things which I can't remember
The larger items were packed by the transport people under our supervision, but we packed the smaller ones ourselves. All the time I spent in Allahabad was used for packing. Finally the goods were loaded onto a large truck and it was covered with two large tarpaulins and tied up nicely. We were very happy that our stuff would be safe and dry in this rainy season.

We had forgotten all about Murphy's Law. We remembered it only when the truck arrived at our Hooghly residence on the morning of the 15th of August and the covers were opened.

The potted plants were just plants sans the pots, and lay amidst scattered soil and shards on the floor. As expected, they had shriveled up due to lack of water. But the plants were the only things that needed water. Most of the other things were very wet.

Turns out that the truck ran into severe rain en route Hooghly and water started seeping in. The guy whom we had kept on the truck to supervise proudly announced later that he had made the driver open up the tarps and retie them properly. I feel that's when all the water accumulated on the tarp roof fell down into the truck. Several cartons of books had soaked up water. One of them collapsed completely and scattered its contents on the floor. Cloth bound encyclopedias were lying in the water for days... just the thought makes me sick. Apart from the books all mattresses, cushions and furniture were also dripping. The plywood top of the divan will have to be thrown away. The framed pictures got badly wet, and one Van Gogh replica and the Mona Lisa cracked their glasses. Luckily the Mona Lisa didn't get wet. The cupboard doors were rubbed raw. The biggest damage was that the water got into one of the cupboards and ruined the few clothes that were there... dark green colour ran off one of my mother's sarees and painted everything else with green patches.

The weather being particularly unhelpful over the next few days, drying up the stuff proved to be a big headache. Most of the time the sky would be cloudy, and brief sunny periods would be followed by sudden showers out of the blue. We had to drag the mattresses out onto the terrace repeatedly and drag them back in when it rained. The books had to be spread out in a room with the fan running, and soon they sprouted a thick layer of multi colored fungus. But even the books are mostly dried up and cleaned out now, thanks to my mother's hair-drier.

Still the rooms are piled high with the dry cartons. We couldn't empty them as we were busy with the wet stuff. Everything has to be unpacked and put in its proper place. Things that took twenty years to accumulate take some time to arrange. And arranging things in a three-storied house means innumerable trips up and down the stairs, which makes it a slow and tiring process.

So, posts may be few and far-between, as I'll be tired on the weekdays with the office work and on the weekends with the unpacking. I hate it this way, but I guess this is the only way out until somebody invents teleportation.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Leaving Allahabad Forever

Twenty years is a long time in a person's life, especially if that person is twenty-five years old. And when he spends this significant period in a city other than his hometown, that city surely earns a status equal to his hometown, if not greater. Yes, I'm talking about myself and the city of Allahabad.

Over twenty years ago, on 17th April 1987, I left for Allahabad with my parents and sister. My father had been transferred there for two years. Two years! That seemed close to infinity for a five-year old at the time. I hated to go. I had to leave my school, my friends, my grandparents and other relatives behind. And the first few months were really bad, although my maternal grandfather had gone there to stay for a while. It was hot and dry, and the people spoke a language I neither spoke nor understood. Why, there wasn't even a colour TV in our Allahabad house where I could watch the Ramayana in colour like I did in Hooghly. I was just biding my time, waiting for those two years to finish.

Then my father's transfer got extended indefinitely. I was admitted in a large school, and time flew by at supersonic speed. It seems only yesterday that I used to go to school on that trolley rickshaw pulled by Bhola. I still remember some incidents from my first days at school, though somewhat fuzzily. And as time passed, I learnt to understand the strange language --- it was Hindi --- and could speak it as well as any of the local children. I remember my first friends: Antaryami, Abhijit, Fahad, Aman, Priyank... there are so many other names that come to the mind; so many others that don't. The teachers: Mrs. Dutta who still looks the same, Ms Wright, Mrs. Lasrado who loved me too much (and as I now realise, rather unfairly), old Mrs. Anand who was a lovely story-teller, Mrs. Lahiri, the English and drawing teacher who taught me much of the painting that I know today, Mr. Bose whose two slaps were enough to change my handwriting (for the better) for life. I progressed from class to class. We shifted from our first rented house to a new bigger one. And somewhere down the line, my resentment for this city changed to love. As I came to know the city intimately, its roads, its moods, its people, I became an 'Allahabadi'. This was the only city that I could truly call my home, for I had left Hooghly before I really knew that place.

And when I came to Kolkata for graduation, I actually missed Allahabad. I yearned to be back there on vacations, not only because my parents and sister were there, but also because I loved lying on the sunny terrace in the winters, cycling on the roads, meeting old friends, visiting my school and these were activities intrinsically associated with my Allahabad visits. But in the back of my mind, we always knew that the end of our stay was coming near. And we were all looking forward to it, making grand plans about what to do after we return to Hooghly.

Yet, when I board the train tonight for going to Allahabad for the last time (I may visit again but not as my hometown), I will feel a pang of sorrow. I can see twenty years of my life lying unraveled in front of me, twenty most important years of my life, years that made me what I am today. And although we had planned it long ago, the homecoming isn't going to be all sweet either: my grandparents' absence, especially my grandmother's death (who passed away just two years ago) is going to remind us that we were a bit too late.

Still, we have been looking forward to bidding farewell to Allahabad since that April day twenty years ago, and it will be a very happy and much awaited event for me and my family when we board the train back to Kolkata on Sunday. We'll finally be back in our new house in Hooghly, leaving Allahabad forever.
At least my body will be. A part of my soul will always stay back in Allahabad.